Know Your 2017-18 Non-Conference Schedule: Alabama

In Features by Blake Lovell

I’ve done quick non-conference schedule breakdowns on the Southeast Hoops podcast over the past month, but those only scratched the surface.

Now, we’re going to dive into each SEC team’s non-conference slate and go a bit deeper on each opponent.

We begin with the Alabama Crimson Tide, who will face their fair share of challenging leading into SEC play.

vs. Memphis

Date: November 10 (Veterans Classic in Annapolis)

2016-17 Record: 19-13

Season Outlook:

Here’s what Memphis lost with the transfers of their top three scorers (Dedric Lawson, Markel Crawford, K.J. Lawson) and the sixth/seventh/eighth leading scorers (Craig Randall, Chad Rykhoek, Keon Clergeot):

  • 57.2 points per game (team averaged 74 ppg)
  • 26.8 rebounds per game (team averaged 37 rpg)

That’s not ideal.

Tubby Smith will go into the season hoping that a host of JUCO transfers and freshmen can help Jeremiah Martin and Jimario Rivers keep things stable.

vs. Lipscomb

Date: November 14

2016-17 Record: 20-13

Season Outlook:

Casey Alexander returns a lot of important pieces from a team that won 20 games and finished second in the A-Sun last year.

Junior guard Garrison Mathews is back after finishing 31st in the nation in scoring (20.4 ppg), as is the efficient Rob Marberry (12.7 ppg, 61.0 percent FG) and three-point standout Nathan Moran (11.1 ppg, 41.7 percent 3-pt).

The Bisons finished sixth nationally in 3-point shooting last season in making 10.3 threes per game.

vs. Alabama A&M

Date: November 17

2016-17 Record: 2-27

Season Outlook:

There’s only so much you can say about a team that won two games last year and was ranked 351 out of 351 teams in KenPom.

However, there’s a new coach in Donnie Marsh – who has spent numerous seasons at various stops under former Indiana and current Texas Southern coach Mike Davis – that’ll try to turn things around and make Alabama A&M competitive once again in the SWAC.

This one might not go well for the rebuilding Bulldogs.

vs. UT Arlington

Date: November 21

2016-17 Record 27-9

Season Outlook:

Scott Cross will bring a really, really good UTA team into Tuscaloosa this season.

The Mavericks return versatile forward Kevin Hervey, who scored in double-digits in 33 of the team’s 36 games. He also knocked down 68 3-pointers, averaged nearly nine rebounds per game, and was second on the team in steals.

Senior point guard Erick Neal returns as well after averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 assists.

I talked with Cross this summer on the Marching to Madness podcast, where he discussed the UTA roster and the expectations for the upcoming season.

vs. BYU/Minnesota/UMass

Date: November 24 and 25 (Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn)

2016-17 Record: BYU (22-12), Minnesota (24-10), UMass (15-18)

Season Outlook:

The best of this group will certainly be the Golden Gophers, who many consider a preseason Top 15 team due to everyone that they have returning.

Richard Pitino has six of his top seven scorers back, which should result in Minnesota challenging for the Big Ten crown.

BYU will yet again have an up-tempo offensive attack, with the Cougars average possession length last season being 14.3 seconds per possession (fifth fastest in the nation).

As for UMass, new coach and former Florida assistant Matt McCall will try to turn around the Minutemen after the program suffered its second straight losing season.

vs. Louisiana Tech

Date: November 29

2016-17 Record: 23-10

Season Outlook:

Eric Konkol enters his third season with the Bulldogs having won 23 games in each of his first two seasons.

Replacing leading scorer Erik McCree will be difficult, but Konkol does have options.

Two of Louisiana Tech’s top three scorers are back to lead the way: senior guard Jacobi Boykins (14.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 40.8 percent 3-pt) and sophomore guard Jalen Harris (10.9 ppg, 88.3 percent FT).

vs. UCF

Date: December 3

2016-17 Record: 24-12

Season Outlook:

Johnny Dawkins had his team playing its best basketball of the season down the stretch, and it resulted in a trip to the NIT Final Four.

This year, an NIT bid seems unlikely. That’s because this UCF team is built for the NCAA Tournament.

Let’s start with the biggest reason (literally). The 7-6, 290-pound Tacko Fall is back for another year after posting quite the stat line during his sophomore campaign: 10.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, and 71.5 percent shooting.

When Alabama fans walk into the gym, he’ll certainly be the first guy they notice.

But there’s more beyond that. Leading scorer B.J. Taylor is set for another breakout season after scoring in double figures in 27 of UCF’s 29 games, which earned him a spot on the All-AAC Second Team.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about the Golden Knights is this: they finished No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense last year – opponents only managed to shoot 36.5 percent per game.

vs. Rhode Island

Date: December 6

2016-17 Record: 25-10

Season Outlook:

Here’s another interesting test for the Crimson Tide.

Many consider the Rams to be among the preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10, and the return of E.C. Matthews is a big reason for that.

The 6-5 senior guard averaged 14.9 points per game last season and will once again be the driving force for this Rhode Island team.

Fellow guard Jared Terrell will be a major contributor as well after averaging double-digits in scoring for the second straight year.

Like Alabama, defense will be a main theme for the Rams. They finished sixth nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (29.5 percent) and 28th nationally in field-goal percentage defense (40.6 percent).

at Arizona

Date: December 9

2016-17 Record: 32-5

Season Outlook:

This seems an appropriate place to put one of the most popular sayings surrounding Alabama basketball:

Buckle up.

Yes, buckle up, because this will be a basketball game right here.

Arizona will enter the season will one of the most talented rosters in the country, and this could be the year that Sean Miller finally breaks through and earns his first Final Four appearance (and perhaps, his first national title).

Allonzo Trier’s return was huge for this team (17.2 ppg), but there’s also Rawle Alkins (10.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Dusan Ristic (10.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg), and a host of others still in the mix.

This will be a fun one.

We discussed Arizona in-depth on our Marching to Madness podcast Preseason Top 25, with the Wildcats coming in at No. 1.

vs. Mercer

Date: December 19 (Rocket City Classic in Huntsville)

2016-17 Record: 15-17

Season Outlook:

It would be a mistake to look at Mercer’s record from last season and assume an automatic victory. That is not the case here.

The Bears return their top seven scorers from last season, including three players who averaged double figures:

  • Ria’n Holland (17.2 ppg)
  • Jordan Strawberry (12.2 ppg)
  • Demetre Rivers (11.2 ppg)

Here’s another significant aspect on those three players: they’re all seniors. As are the fourth and fifth leading scorers – 6-9 forward Desmond Ringer (7.6 ppg) and 6-6 forward Stephon Jelks (7.3 ppg).

And should the game get close and be decided in the final minutes? Mercer was fifth in the nation in free-throw percentage last season (78.2 percent).

vs. Texas

Date: December 22

2016-17 Record: 11-22

Season Outlook:

The Shaka Smart era in Austin took an interesting turn last season when the Longhorns lost 17 of their final 21 games.

This season, things should look a bit different.

And it’ll start with the arrival of 5-star center Mohamed Bamba. After beating out Kentucky and Duke for the dominant 7-footer, Smart will certainly find ways to use him on both ends of the floor.

Of course, Andrew Jones (11.4 ppg) and Kerwin Roach Jr. (9.9 ppg) will also be major factors in the Longhorns’ success.

One area where Texas will need to vastly improve is in its 3-point shooting after being the worst power conference team in the country in that area (342nd nationally, 29.2 percent).

vs. Oklahoma

Date: January 27

2016-17 Record: 11-20

Season Outlook:

Just like with Texas, Oklahoma will look different than it did a year ago after playing one of the toughest schedules in the country.

Although Lon Krueger did lose Jordan Woodard, the Sooners have guards Kameron McGusty (10.9 ppg) and Rashard Odomes (10.1 ppg) back in the fold.

However, there’s another guard that will come in right away and make an immediate impact, and that’s 5-star point guard Trae Young.

Also, consider this: Since taking over as Kansas State head coach in 1986, Krueger has never had back-to-back losing seasons.

Even more impressive?

Overall Schedule Analysis:

I talk about this all the time, but it’s especially true in this case.

You want to be ready when March rolls around, and there’s no doubt that Alabama will be after playing this type of schedule.

Avery Johnson did an excellent job putting together a schedule filled with different playing styles and a solid mixture of power conference/mid-major teams.

Alabama’s roster is built with Top 20 talent, but it will certainly be tested throughout this strong non-conference slate.

Blake Lovell is the founder of Southeast Hoops. He hosts the Marching to Madness podcast, which features interviews with coaches around the country. He also hosts a weekly college basketball show on WNSR 560AM/95.9 FM in Nashville. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Athlon Sports, Rivals, FanRag Sports, and many more.